Litigator James Tyrrell Jr. is known for handling litigation with global dimensions, from the 9/11 litigation in New York to a messy battle over Chevron’s environmental legacy in Ecuador. But it was his desire to remain in his home state that drove his latest career move.
Tyrrell is taking his mass tort and product liability group from Locke Lord’s Morristown office to Newark-based Sills, Cummis & Gross, where he will co-chair the firm’s mass tort practice along with Beth Rose.
George Talarico, who had been Locke Lord’s Morristown managing partner, is also making the move, as are Elissa Glasband, Eric Westenberger and Patrick Gilmartin. All join Sills Cummis as partners, effective Wednesday.
Tyrrell had been co-chair of Locke Lord’s product liability group. He previously held management positions at Latham & Watkins, Patton Boggs and Locke Lord successor Edwards Wildman.
Though he’s now making another move, joining Sills Cummis signals Tyrell’s commitment to staying put in New Jersey.
“I concluded it was a better prospect … to move to a firm that had a greater capability in New Jersey,” but also a national practice, Tyrrell said in an interview.
“I could have returned to New York where I started, but I didn’t want to do that. I did not want to be at a firm that had a short-term interest in New Jersey. … I’ve been through that world,” he said. “For my young people, 20-plus years younger than me, this is a place they can thrive.”
According to Tyrrell and Sills Cummis managing partner R. Max Crane, the move grew out of a relationship the two developed years ago at the elevator banks of One Riverfront Plaza in Newark—Sills Cummis’ headquarters and Tyrrell’s home as Newark managing partner of Patton Boggs at the time.
“We would run into each other at the elevator,” often at 8 or 9 o’clock at night, Crane said. “We would scratch our heads and say, ‘why are we doing this?’ … We hit it off well.”
When Tyrrell was looking to depart Patton Boggs in 2013, Crane offered to take on Tyrrell’s whole practice group.
Tyrrell ended up going elsewhere: Edwards Wildman, because “I had a bunch of cases in places in which Edwards Wildman had offices,” including Chicago and the West Coast, Tyrrell said. “Candidly, I was afraid there would be less of a willingness [on the part of clients] to move the work with me” if he went to a firm with a smaller geographic footprint, he added. Edwards Wildman opened the Morristown office with Tyrrell’s group.
Following Edwards Wildman’s merger with Locke Lord not long after, and the death of prominent firm partner James Skeffington of Providence, Rhode Island, Locke Lord’s Morristown office “shrunk precipitously,” Tyrrell said. Skeffington’s passing led to the departure of a major client, CVS, which had been a source of significant work for the firm, including its Morristown contingent, according to Tyrrell.
An ‘Easy’ Match
When Tyrrell’s group decided to seek out a landing spot, there were other suitors. Tyrrell declined to name them, but described three: “a major international firm with about 1,700 lawyers that is expanding in the U.S.,” a national firm with offices on both coasts, and “one of the leading Philadelphia law firms.”
Tyrrell said all his group’s existing clients but one are following in the move to Sills Cummis. He named one client: CNA Insurance, for which the group has begun handling strategic litigation.
Crane called the decision to bring on Tyrrell and company “easy.”
“You put him on a team, and that team is going to be definitionally better,” Crane said. “The attraction is, it’s not just one area.”
Tyrrell’s numerous notable engagements over the years include his representation of Monsanto in litigation over herbicide Agent Orange; SEACOR, in connection with the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig explosion; and New York City, in helping negotiate a settlement in which WTC Captive Insurance Co. agreed to pay at least $575 million to resolve more than 10,000 individual actions in connection with the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
Among his more controversial engagements was the Chevron matter, in which Tyrrell, with Patton Boggs at the time, represented indigenous Ecuadorians in claims that the energy company polluted the Amazon. The matter, which ran on for years and involved filings in multiple jurisdictions, ended up settling in May 2014 with Patton Boggs withdrawing as counsel and agreeing to pay Chevron $15 million, and expressing regret for involvement in the case.
At Sills Cummis, both attorneys said Tyrrell will charge rates ”a little higher” than that of most firm partners, who bill from the low-$500s to the mid-$700s per hour. But for Tyrrell, the move is also about rate flexibility and offering “Latham & Watkins-type services” at non-New York prices, he said. “Clients are increasingly price-sensitive.”
Asked whether he himself had felt rate pressure, Tyrrell acknowledged, “Not from the clients who know me.”
Crane, noting that rate autonomy has been important in attracting laterals, said of Tyrrell: ”My job is to mostly stay out of his way.”
Neither Gregory Casamento, partner in charge of Locke Lord’s New York office, nor David Taylor, the firm’s chairman, immediately responded to requests for comment. According to the firm’s website, the departures leave its Morristown office with five attorneys—among them notable litigators Paulette Brown and Lisa Ann Ruggiero.
For Sills Cummis, the additions push firmwide head count closer to the 150 mark. It was about three years ago that the firm last made a group hire for its litigation practice, with the additions of five litigators, including Joseph Fiorenzo Jr., from Sokol, Behot & Fiorenzo of Hackensack.
Tyrrell—a New Jersey native, Harvard Law School graduate and former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps—is 68 this year and has migrated several times over the course of his career.
He was at Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch in Morristown from 1987 to 1997, and at Latham & Watkins in Newark from 1997 to 2006. In 2006, a large group led by Tyrrell and partner John McGahren broke off from Latham & Watkins to open up a shop for Patton Boggs in Newark. In 2013, as Patton Boggs closed its Newark office and engaged in merger talks with Squire Sanders—ultimately leading to the formation of Squire Patton Boggs—Tyrrell, an executive committee member, moved to Edwards Wildman, again helping an out-of-state firm plant a flag in New Jersey. He brought along six litigators with him, including Glasband and Westenberger.
Tyrrell and company officially became part of Locke Lord in 2015 via the merger with Edwards Wildman.
Crane said lateral moves flow from all kinds of relationships, including those forged at elevator banks.
“I’m glad I kept in touch,” Crane said.